Right after I type the last period at the end of the last sentence of each of my novels, my fifth now, I stare at that sentence for a long time and wonder whether the novel is really, really finished, and I mean done, and if so how in the world did I manage to pull off another novel of 300 or 400 plus pages, manage to, day after day and year after year, drag my tired backside to a tired chair in front of my tired laptop to coax a story out of heaven knows what creative well, to connect the story-lines, the dates, the historical facts, mold believable characters with their own unique voices, I hope, who possess profundities worthy of sharing with readers. And then, my neurotic voice gravelly with doubt, I tell my husband that I might have finished my novel and how about going out to celebrate.
It is to the great credit of Christopher New, the author of the “The Kaminsky Cure” (Delphinium Books), that one is able to laugh, if not out loud, at least to smile sadly, while utterly immersed in a story that takes place in Europe during the most shameful time in our not-so-distant history. A time when “a frothy stream of anti-Semitism had begun to flow into the village like s— from the leaking sewer, except that there wasn’t a sewer to get leaks in yet.”
A valuable 14th century Haggadah inscribed by a Sephardic rabbi and beautifully illustrated by his talented wife takes center stage in Alyson Richman’s richly imagined sixth novel, The Velvet Hours.
The theme of the Haggadah, read during Passover at the Seder table, is the freedom of the Jewish people from slavery and their exodus from Egypt—a theme Richman has skillfully woven into the fabric of her story that takes place at the advent of World War II when, for the few who were lucky enough to possess the means, there was still time to escape “before everything in Europe would smolder under Hitler’s torch.”
Every now and then, a multi-generational novel such as “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem” by Sarit Yishai-Levi (Thomas Dunn Books/St. Martin’s Press) comes along, so rich with potent curses, outlandish customs, eccentric characters, and forbidden loves, readers might find the story somewhat incredible and hard to connect to. But to this reader, who happens to be part of a community with similar mores, every detail rings true and immensely pleasurable to relive on the page.
Alice Hoffman’s sentences possess a musical cadence that demand to be read aloud like poetry, which I often did with great pleasure as I read “The Marriage of Opposites” (Simon and Schuster).
The story of Rachel Pomié Petit Pizzarro and her son, the renowned Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, starts in the early 1800s, when “there were eighty families” in Rachel’s congregation … Jews who hadn’t stopped running from persecution until” they came to Charlotte Amalie on the Island of St. Thomas.
It is 1980, my first night of Seder in America. I am expecting 50 guests, not a large number by Persian standards. I am, nevertheless, nervous. Mrs. Seidleman, my soon-to-be American friend, is invited tonight, and it’s imperative that the image of us Iranians as a bunch of camel-riding, uncivilized nomads, who parade American hostages in blindfolds around the compound of the American embassy in Tehran, be dispelled once and for all.
Each of us has a bit of Lilith in us. A bit of a voice, when silence is expected of us. A bit of a desire for freedom from the conventional fences others erect around us. A bit of a need for equality, when we’ve been taught, as early as when we were children or young girls, that we are not quite equal. Yes, we all possess a bit of Lilith’s unacceptable rebelliousness in us, which believe me, requires more than a bit of courage.
In her captivating historical novel, Lisette’s List (Random House), Susan Vreeland, The New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue, takes readers by the hand and guides them, with assured steps and astute historical knowledge, through the tumultuous, war-torn, years of 1937 to 1948 in Europe, depicting horrific attempts by the Nazis to purge Europe of what they deem “degenerate” art, setting fire to precious works and stealing the pieces they want for themselves.
From the opening of Anita Diamant’s heartwarming novel, The Boston Girl, (Scribner), when Addie Bauman, an 85-year-old grandmother recounts her life story to her granddaughter, I was struck by the similarities between the Jewish cultural beliefs and mores in Boston in 1915, when Addie’s story starts, and in Iran, where I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s.
They have a way of scaring you, of chasing sleep away, these psychological thrillers that send your heart thumping. Imagine, then, what you are in for when two masters of the genre decide to collaborate. The result is “The Golem of Hollywood,” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) by bestselling authors Jonathan Kellerman (The Alex Delaware series) and his son, Jesse Kellerman (“Potboiler,” “Trouble”), a story infused with mysticism, mythology, Jewish rituals and fantastical creatures. There’s the Golem of the title, of course, but also a mysterious woman, a serial killer (or more) and a bug — yes, a mean, jealous beetle that has a way of rearing her horned head at the most inappropriate time to haunt our poor protagonist, Jacob Lev.